The Court of Appeal has ruled that a child born with foetal alcohol syndrome after her mother drank excessively during pregnancy is not entitled to compensation.
In the case brought before the court, lawyers from an unnamed council from teh North West of England argued that a seven-year-old girl’s mother had effectively poisoned her daughter by drinking heavily during pregnancy.
The mother was accused of drinking “grossly excessive” amounts of alcohol while pregnant, often drinking eight cans of strong lager and half a bottle of vodka per day, despite warnings of the damage it could do to her baby.
The Court of Appeal found that the girl was not entitled to a payout from the government-funded Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme as a victim of crime.
In their ruling the judges said:
“The the role of the state in these circumstances should be to provide care and support for the child who has suffered harm to the extent that this is necessary. It should not be to pay compensation on the basis that the child is the victim of a crime by her mother. “
The decision is important, as if the court had found the mother guilty then women’s rights campaigners argue that it will have set a precedent and the first step to limiting women’s reproductive rights.
Rebecca Schiller, co-chair of Birthrights and Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service commented:
“This is an extremely important ruling for women everywhere. The UK’s courts have recognised that women must be able to make their own decisions about their pregnancies.
“Both the immediate and broader implications of the case were troubling. In seeking to establish that the damage caused to a foetus through heavy drinking was a criminal offence, the case called into question women’s legal status while pregnant, and right to make their own decisions. Any ruling which found that drinking while pregnant constituted a ‘crime of violence’ could have paved the way to the criminalisation of pregnant women’s behaviour – an alarming prospect given the ever expanding list of activities women are warned may pose a risk to the health of their baby.
“A small number of women drink very heavily throughout their pregnancy. Their problems will not be helped either by the threat of prosecution – making them even less likely to seek help – or through ever more warnings about the dangers of drinking while pregnant. Women in this situation need rapid access to specialist help and support, as do children born with disability caused by alcohol abuse. This case was brought by the council in order to win compensation for a child born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, which could be used to fund her care. We must find a way to ensure that the small number of children born with this condition have the resources they need to live their lives to the full without resorting to criminalising their mothers.”